Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic, much has been said about the disastrous state of the population’s mental health. Mental health issues are thought to affect a large segment of society, and more specifically young people. Because the term mental health is so often misused, it is important to understand what it is and what it isn’t.
Mental health and well-being
Mental health refers to a person’s overall psychological and emotional well-being. It encompasses a person’s way of thinking, feeling and behaving in everyday life. Being in sound mental health means having the ability to face life’s challenges and stresses, maintain positive relationships, make informed decisions and enjoy an overall feeling of well-being.
Mental health covers a broad spectrum ranging anywhere from a positive mental state to emotional distress, the latter of which can be caused by temporary stressors that may impact several aspects of a person’s life.
The following are recommendations on how to take care of your mental health:
- Accept the fact that life holds many challenges
- Be aware of and accept your strengths and weaknesses
- Set realistic goals for yourself
- Establish healthy, lasting relationships with people who accept and support you
A wide range of mental health issues
While the term mental health refers to a person’s overall mental state, in the same way as physical health refers to their physical state, the term mental health issues, on the other hand, refers to psychological disorders and psychosocial disabilities. These include mood disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders and personality disorders, among others.
Schizophrenia is also part of the wide range of mental health issues. According to the World Health Organization, schizophrenia “is characterized by significant impairments in the way reality is perceived and changes in behaviour.” The symptoms are: “persistent delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking, highly disorganized behaviour or extreme agitation. (…) A range of effective care options for people with schizophrenia exist, and these include medication, psychoeducation, family interventions and psychosocial rehabilitation.” Schizophrenia very often appears in late adolescence or early adulthood. Its origin is multifactorial. While specialists acknowledge that schizophrenia is often associated with a genetic predisposition, certain studies show strong evidence of a close correlation between excessive cannabis use, especially during adolescence, and psychoses in adulthood. 
The WHO’s Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan states that“In the context of national efforts to strengthen mental health, it is vital to not only protect and promote the mental well-being of all, but also to address the needs of people with mental health conditions. This should be done through community-based mental health care, which is more accessible and acceptable than institutional care, helps prevent human rights violations and delivers better recovery outcomes for people with mental health conditions.”
Accordingly, if taking care of one’s mental health is an important personal challenge, providing services for mental health problems is a societal issue that takes on even more importance in light of recent findings.
Increased anxiety among youth?
In a study conducted among 18,000 young people aged 12 to 25 attending a total of 64 different schools, cegeps or universities in Québec, one out of five adolescents surveyed indicated their mental health was “passable” or “bad”. The study found a high level of anxiety- and depression-related symptoms among male participants, and more particularly among female participants. According to certain psychologists, there is a strong correlation between increased screen time and negative impacts on sleep, as well as perceptions surrounding appearance, especially among female secondary school students. Having fewer close friends to confide in as well as smaller and more divided families, teachers who are exhausted and overwhelmed, and a lack of counsellors and psychoeducation specialists are some of the reasons invoked to explain the increase in anxiety that has become more pervasive in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
While mental health awareness campaigns have increased in number, there has also been a significant increase in the number of antidepressants prescribed for youth 14 and under. Data shows that, between 2019 and 2021, there has been a 28% increase in antidepressant use in this age group. This high level of antidepressant use is not enough to obscure the lack of access to psychotherapy services in the province. According to the CHU Sainte-Justine, the number of young people who have been waiting to see a psychologist has increased by 325% since 2019.
The situation does not seem any better in other provinces if one looks at the latest study conducted by the New Brunswick Health Council among 50,000 students in the province. Published on October 25, 2023, the study shows that 56% of students surveyed in 2022-2023 reported having symptoms of anxiety or depression. The survey emphasized that LGBTQ+ youth were overrepresented among students reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression, with 78% of them reporting these symptoms.
Asking for help
There is no doubt that this pressing mental health situation, which seems to be affecting young Canadians in particular, must be resolved. While non-specialized psychological support services and online support can help some people deal with their issues, they can by no means replace real professional help.
In Canada, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHS) offers a wide range of services to help persons with mental health issues find the support they need.
At Portage, persons with dependency and mental health issues such as depression, borderline personality disorders or anxiety attacks can turn to any of our rehabilitation centres. Our counsellors are trained to deal with mental health challenges and accompany residents on the path to sobriety.
However, for persons dealing with mental health issues such as schizophrenia, Portage has implemented a specific program that addresses mental health issues and dependency concurrently and in conjunction with the resident’s referring health care practitioners. Offered in Montréal since 1995, the program provides a healthy environment for persons with concomitant mental health and dependency issues.